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Neal-Pettit v. Lahman

Ohio Supreme Court
928 N.E.2d 421 (2010)


Facts

Linda Lahman (codefendant) was allegedly intoxicated and already fleeing the scene of a collision when she struck Kimberly Neal-Pettit’s (plaintiff) vehicle. Neal-Pettit sustained injuries and sued Lahman and her insurer, Allstate Insurance Company (codefendant). The jury returned a verdict awarding Neal-Pettit compensatory damages, plus punitive damages of $75,000. The jury also awarded Neal-Pettit her attorney’s fees because it found Lahman acted with malice. Allstate covered the award except for the punitive damages and attorney’s fees on the ground that the policy excluded “punitive or exemplary damages, fines or penalties.” The trial judge granted Neal-Pettit summary judgment on the issue and Allstate appealed. Allstate argued that attorney’s fees are an element of punitive damages, which Ohio public policy prevents insurers from covering. The appellate court affirmed the summary judgment for Neal-Pettit, reasoning that attorney’s fees are conceptually distinct from punitive damages and that the policy did not expressly exclude them. Allstate again appealed, and the Ohio Supreme Court granted review of two issues: (1) whether an insurer paying attorney’s fees violates public policy, and (2) whether the provision excluding coverage of punitive damages also excludes attorney’s fees awarded in conjunction with punitive damages.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Lanzinger, J.)

Dissent (Lundberg Stratton, J.)

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